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Films give latest interpretation of often-varied fairy tales

Hansel and Gretel are no longer chubby-cheeked children stealing sweet treats off a witch’s house. Their new profession: worldwide witch hunters.

“Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” is a new spin on an old story that hits the big screen Friday. It’s just one of several fairy tale classics getting an overhaul this year.

“Oz the Great and Powerful” opens in March and tells the story of how the wizard, played by James Franco, comes to the land of Oz.

Fairy tale characters and their stories have long been the stars of Hollywood entertainment. Disney has become the master at taking stories and twisting them to appeal to audiences of all ages – not to mention pulling in millions of dollars in merchandise and products based on the films.

Lewis Roberts, an IPFW associate professor in the English and linguistic department, says his students are usually “shocked that Disney did not create Snow White and Cinderella.” He says that most people think of Disney films first and then the written word.

Fairy tales were not originally meant for children, Roberts says. They were part of the adult folk culture. That began to change with the Brothers Grimm, he says.

He says now, children are predisposed culturally to think of fairy tales as movies first.

It’s hard to compare a film to the written word, he says. Films try to appeal to a broader audience. A 6-year-old doesn’t have money to spend, so a film has to appeal to the parents, Roberts says.

But appealing to a broader audience is not such a bad thing, says Mary Voors, children’s services manager at the Allen County Public Library downtown.

Often children and adults want to come back and revisit the original fairy tale after seeing a movie version, she says.

Voors says she would venture that “many more people have seen ‘The Wizard of Oz’ on TV than they have ever read the book.”

She says fairy tales have been in our culture for hundreds of years and many of them help us “come to terms with our own fears.” There is something familiar and comfortable about fairy tales, Voors says.

There are thousands of versions of fairy tales available, so people don’t have to accept the Disney or Pixar story, Roberts says.

Voors says the library has collected a number of variances for fairy tales, such as “Cinderella,” which are different all over the world.

Fairy tales have proven they can stand the test of time, Voors says.

That is probably why film companies continue to produce different incarnations.

Robert says those incarnations are just new spins on old classics, which will continue to be used as fodder for entertainment.

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